Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on February 17, 2019
"Straight Man" was published back in 1997. Which shows that in academia, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Actually, that's not true. Whenever I read older books about academia, I'm always astounded by how secure the characters' jobs are, and how much free time they have. Even here, when the story is about the possible downsizing of a department. Things were ugly in the 1990s, but at least most of the professors had tenure. An occasional adjunct floats through the narrative, but by and large, the university is staffed by permanent faculty.

That being said, insecurity, factions, and personal vendettas run rampant. No one can get anything done because they're constantly involved in wrangling students, deans, and colleagues, a time-consuming and emotionally exhausting activity.

"Straight Man" has a lot of grim-ish stuff in it, but at its heart it's a comedy about a character who's never been able to take anything seriously in his life. In the final weeks of this particular spring semester, though, health problems, family problems, and job problems all converge to make him re-evaluate his life. Well, sort of. Mainly he's still seeing the humorous side of everything. I wouldn't exactly call the book "light," but it's a sharply witty look into the absurdity of academic culture, with more serious meditations on life and its meaning woven throughout. Academics are likely to find it cringe-inducingly hilarious; everyone else will probably just find it funny.
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